Just to be clear: I don’t think Mitt Romney should have adopted George W. Bush’s more big-government approach to social woes. But I do think he should have much more aggressively and actively talked about middle-class and low-income Americans. Yes, he talked a lot about his five points that would help the middle class in the last month or so of the campaign. But it was already late by then.
Throughout the primary and the general, Romney consistently talked about how he wanted to create jobs and how his economic plan would bring that about. But it wasn’t enough, particularly in the general, because President Obama and his campaign successfully made people worried that a more robust, roaring economy in a Romney presidency wouldn’t necessarily be a bonus for them. The way Obama talked, you’d think that no one but the wealthiest and upper middle class would be thriving in a Romney economy. And that was a notion Romney didn’t push back on forcefully enough. He needed to say ad nauseam that in a Romney economy, poor and middle class Americans would be better off, too. It’s not enough to say “all” Americans would have been better off; you have to spell out it with more specificity than that when your opponent is constantly accusing you of favoring the rich.
Romney also should have hit back hard on Obama’s constant refrain that the Bush tax cuts and similar policies lead to the economic devastation of 2008. That’s not true, but Romney barely rebutted it – leaving who knows how many voters wondering if that was true, and if a vote for Romney was a vote for economic collapse again.
Voters tended to trust Romney on the economy and on jobs. But they tended to think Obama cared more about the middle class.
And maybe that was the clincher for folks.
Romney shouldn’t have needed the uproar over the 47 percent remark to cause him to say I care about 100 percent of Americans. He should have said it before then. His campaign should have acknowledged – and pushed back against – the Democratic talking point that Republicans only care about the well-to-do.
And he should have found a way to weave in his own story. I admire that Romney doesn’t seem comfortable touting his own virtues, that he seems to really practice not letting the left hand know what the right is doing, etc. But the more I learned about Romney, the more I was personally impressed with his generosity. Not just financially – although he’s certainly given away a good chunk of his income consistently – but also in terms of time and effort. He went over to neighbors’ and friends’ homes and helped them. He didn’t just write checks; he gave up time and energy. That’s impressive.
But we barely heard about anything good Romney had done until the convention. Nor did his campaign seem to put any effort into sharing with journalists stories of Romney’s compassion and kindness and getting those tales out. It wasn’t enough to defend private equity when the Bain attacks happened; it was also imperative to define Romney’s character and prove his good guy bona fides. That didn’t happen.
In many ways, Romney’s life is a terrific example of the kind of compassion conservatives seek to practice. He donated his own money voluntarily. He was there for his family and friends, and volunteered. And from my understanding of Mormonism, it appears that Romney’s church was one that did an exemplary job of trying to help those down on their luck and struggling. That’s exactly the kind of charity that conservatives are forever advocating: voluntary, community-based, and genuinely helpful. Why didn’t Romney talk about that?
Sometimes the problem isn’t the policies. Sometimes the problem is the terrible way the policies are marketed.